Welfarism: While Sweden tops, South Korea languishes

While in Asia, Japan attains the highest ranking (overall ranking of 10), Sweden is rated as the best country world-wide to grow old 

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The country, which regularly is among the highest rankings in all social indicators, also tops the Global AgeWatch Index 2013, should come as no surprise to anyone. It was almost 100 years ago, when Sweden introduced its first pension scheme. Over time, the country's successful welfare policies have resulted in a “historically unique situation where the number of people living beyond the age of 100 has surpassed the number of deaths in young children”. But with life expectancy reaching 81 years and putting pressure on the pension system, the country's elders are gearing up to keep working until they are 75-years-old.

Overall, the northern and western European nations attain higher rankings in the index due to a “consistent history of beneficial public policy interventions relating to social protection and healthcare, together with high levels of individual participation and life satisfaction”. But prolonged economic stagnation is putting pressure on public finances, with the OCED calling for an urgent agenda for reforms to ensure an adequate quality of life for older people across the continent.  


Two neighbouring Asian countries, and highly developed ones, presents a sharp contrast in the Global AgeWatch Index 2013.

Over the past two decades, Japan, which now has the highest proportion of older people in the world, has implemented a number of elderly-friendly policies such as promoting independent living, rebuilding community networks, and supporting high labour force participation by the elderly.

Meanwhile, its neighbour, South Korea is ranked at 67, lowest among the OECD countries, which is contrary to its developed nation status as well as the high economic growth of recent decades. The country is also ranked lowest in Asia as regards income security for the elderly.

This apparently perverse outcome is largely explained by the very high levels of poverty among older Koreans; 45% of people over 60 live on less than 50% of median household income and receive 67% of average population income. These differences in the experience of poverty between older people and the rest of the Korean population are substantially greater than the OECD average.,” noted the authors.

Korea’s very high old-age poverty rate is primarily due to the fact that the public pension scheme was introduced in 1988, so retirees in the mid-2000s had little or no entitlements.”


As expected, US (overall ranking 8) and Canada (overall ranking 5) are the highest ranked countries in the Americas. But, the report noted, US has the lowest levels of dependency on public transfers and high levels of income inequality in old age, indicating that national wealth is not everything.

For example, the US spends more on health than any other country, but its global ranking for life expectancy at birth is only 39 (women) and 40 (men), suggesting that lifetime inequalities in areas such as wealth, healthcare and educational attainment play a key role in differing outcomes at older ages, even in wealthy societies,” the authors concluded. 

Click here and here for the other two stories related to Global AgeWatch Index 2013 under the sections The 3rd World and Close to Home. 

All information, figures and charts in this story are courtesy the Global AgeWatch Index 2013.